Catherine Zhu is the managing partner of Egon Zehnder in Hong Kong.
Transformation can be a great benefit, but takes effort
More and more people are working extreme hours, especially in Hong Kong. So it was refreshing to meet a senior executive who is reversing this trend – and achieving greater performance as a result. A former China executive at Microsoft, he has since relocated to Europe. When I saw him recently, I immediately sensed something different about him: he had much more energy and presence.
“What’s changed?” I asked. He explained that he’d embarked on a journey of personal transformation, inspired by Microsoft’s own mission of empowering people. Previously the company evaluated managers against a complex list of performance indicators, but now it focuses on just three leadership attributes: the energy to inspire others, ability to simplify for your team and your customers, and a focus on building success.
This leader thought long and hard about how to make those attributes real in his own life. He began by blocking out an hour a day to take a walk or go to the gym. At first, that made him feel like a student skipping school, but it gave him space to think and made him more present and self-aware – physically and mentally.
He started noticing a change in his interactions with colleagues and customers. For example, he used to qualify every positive word of feedback to his team members with “but you could improve”. Now he takes time to give them unqualified recognition, and his team have become visibly bolder and more confident.
It hasn’t been easy, though: as he emphasised to me, transformation isn’t real unless it’s painful. He has had to become more self-aware, not just of his strengths but of his unhelpful habits too. And he has had to let go of his know-it-all posture and be ready to say “I don’t know”.
His story contains career insights and life lessons for all of us. If we want to be more effective leaders, adding more hours to our work day is not the solution. Instead, we need to look deep within, and be ready to tap into our inner energy. Transformation starts within ourselves.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as A fresh change.